To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacriﬁce, courage, kindness.
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places — and there are so many — where people have behaved magniﬁcently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an inﬁnite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in deﬁance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.
“The Optimism of Uncertainty,” The Nation (2 Sep 2004)
Adopted from Zinn's essay of the same name in Paul Loeb (ed.), The Impossible Will Take a Little While (2004). See also Zinn, "A Marvelous Victory" (23 Feb 2004).
Added on 28-Nov-16 | Last updated 11-Dec-16
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